Cakes, Christmas

My Nan bakes her fruit cake in a shoebox


My Nan has mentioned that she sometimes bakes her Christmas cake in a shoe box. I’ve never seen this infamous ‘shoe box cake tin’ but, as luck would have it, when I visited yesterday, she was busy wrapping her Christmas cake. I walked into the kitchen to make tea and low and behold, there was a shoe box sitting on her stove! I looked inside to find no shoes — only cake crumbs.

Just goes to show that there’s no excuse for not baking if you don’t have a tin. On that note, my Nan often bakes in a biscuit tin. She uses about seven layers of greaseproof paper, cut to fit and sometimes adds a couple of layers of tin foil (see photo below). She secures the paper to the box with clothes pegs before pouring the batter into the box. Once the batter has settled, she removes the pegs and bakes her cake.


You can find her marvelous traditional Christmas cake recipe here, together with photos of the process.

Click here for my Snowman Christmas cake — where I take my Nan’s cake and decorate it step-by-step with ‘plastic icing’ snowmen.


If you’re keen to give small personal Christmas cakes as gifts, click here for an idea. This post tells you how to lay the marzipan and shows how to create someone’s name with royal icing.

Have fun!


White bread recipe (use for baguettes or shape it how you like)

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Here’s the traditional baguette recipe that we practiced at pastry school. It’s the bread recipe I use most often — and not just because it’s sugar-free and fat-free. Besides being straight-forward and clean-tasting, it gives lots of crunch and is delicious.

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There are three ingredients, besides water: bread flour, yeast and salt. The method involves mixing the dough, allowing it to rise, strengthening the dough and shaping it —and then leaving it to rise again before baking it. It will give you two medium sized loaves or four smaller baguettes.

It’s a perfect recipe to prepare on a warm, expansive Sunday…. especially since I’m providing a rather detailed account of how to prepare it! (Alternatively, click here for a shorter version but note that the ingredients are halved).


1 kg white bread flour
20 g live yeast (reduce by 25% for dry yeast)
20 g salt
700 g warm water (comfortably warm… not hot)

If you have a teeny oven or you’re new to baking bread, rather halve the recipe, in which case you’ll have two small loaves or one medium sized loaf. Bread-making isn’t difficult, it just takes a little practice.


Mix the ingredients together:

Place the flour in a bowl with the yeast. Rub the live yeast into the flour with your fingertips or simply mix in the dried yeast. Pour in the warm water and mix (using your hands or a wooden spoon).

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Finally, mix in the salt — once everything is roughly combined (the mixture will be messy and sticky at this stage).

Knead the dough:

Turn the mixture onto a ‘warm’ work surface (warm up a cold marble surface for instance, as yeast needs warmth). Now pull the dough towards you and slap it down onto the counter, while trapping in as much air as possible.

Work your dough for ten minutes or so until it feels light and silky smooth (the dough should be coming off your hands as you knead at this stage). If you haven’t kneaded dough before, don’t think the stickiness is going to last forever! See this post which links to a great demonstration by the master baker, Richard Bertinet.

Now work the dough into a ‘ball shape’. Sprinkle some flour (or rub some olive oil) onto the bottom of a large bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size).

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Gently place your dough inside (crease-side-down, smooth-side-up). Give a light sprinkling of flour over the top of the dough.

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Cover with a dish towel, a towel or some plastic.

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Rest the dough:

Place the covered bowl in a warm, draught-free place.

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Let the dough rest for 45 minutes to an hour until it has doubled in size.

A word on timing: we were never given cooking times at pastry school. ‘It’s ready when it’s ready,’ is what Chef Tim always used to say. This approach caused anxiety at first but it forced us to develop our powers of observation. As a result, we developed a ‘feel’ and came to trust ourselves more. Failures were mostly still edible and that’s how we learned!

Strengthen and shape the dough:

Divide the dough into same-sized portions (depending on how many loaves you’re making).

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Fold each piece of dough into itself in order to strengthen it: fold the outer area towards the centre of each piece. This should only take a couple of minutes.

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Once the dough is ‘tighter’ or ‘stronger’, you can go ahead and create the shape of your choice.

To make a baguette shape:

Work the dough into a sausage shape and then roll both ends into narrower sausage shapes. You could create a simple ball shape or a rough ‘ship-shape’… have fun with it, rather than strive for perfection. Keep a light touch and don’t overwork the dough!

Rest the dough again:

Sprinkle some flour on your oven tray before gently placing your bread on it. Use a sharp knife, scissors or a razor blade to slit the top of the bread (this releases pressure).

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Cover it and place it in a warm, draught-free place to rest again — for half an hour or so.

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Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees celsius.

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If you want a good crust then spray some water over the bread and into the oven before baking. I often rub olive oil and some salt over the dough at this stage — this adds to the flavour.


Gently place the oven tray into the centre of the oven (close the door quickly so you don’t lose too much heat). Turn the temperature down to 180 degrees celsius after about ten minutes.

Bake for a further 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how many loaves you have in the oven. A golden brown crust tells you that the bread is close to ready. To check, tap the underside — if there is a sharp, hollow sound then it is ready. If not, place the loaf face down onto the oven tray and bake for a further 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the bread on a rack to cool down a little before serving it. A little olive oil rubbed over the bread will enhance it’s appearance, taste and smell.

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And if you want to give some to family, friends or neighbours, simply wrap in some wax-paper or pop it into a paper bag ~x~

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PS. Warning to other food bloggers: this post has been copied and pasted in it’s entirety by a content scraper/thief: They posted it as their own at


A custard prune pudding (like bread & butter pudding without the bread & butter?)

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If you’re a baked pudding fan then you’re probably going to love this custard prune pudding… or should I say this bread-and-butter-type-pudding (minus the bread and butter). … or should I say crustless-milk-tart-type-pudding (with fruit in it)?!

Known as Far Breton in France, where it originates, it is incredibly quick and easy to make… and absolutely delicious!! I delivered a slice to my grandmother who is not known to repeat the words ‘THIS IS ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS’ several times in a row. She insisted that I bake it for our next family get-together. She promised in return that she’d show me how to prepare her very own one-of-a-kind non-bake rice pudding recipe.

I used Richard Bertinet’s recipe from his bread book, Crust. I added a handful of raisins and reduced the amount of prunes called for. I also added a teeny sprinkling of cinnamon to the batter.


130g caster sugar (I used regular sugar)
220g eggs (I used 4 1/2 medium sized eggs)
110g plain white flour
750g full-cream milk (cold)
400g of stoned prunes — soaked overnight in 50g of rum or tea (I used brandy)

You will also need pinch of salt (I added 3 small pinches of salt) and some butter for greasing an earthenware dish.

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Richard Bertinet recommends greasing a 20 x 25cm (or thereabouts) earthenware dish with 50g of melted butter. If you cut down on this then the dish is pretty much a ‘fat-free’ dessert. Your dish should be about 4cm deep.

Place your oven tray in the centre of your oven and preheat to 220 degrees celsius.


Mixing up the batter shouldn’t take you much longer than 15 minutes.

Warm the prunes slightly and spread them out on the base of your dish (you could cut them into smaller pieces and use less fruit). Whisk the eggs and sugar together so that they are well combined. Gradually sift in the flour while whisking and add some salt. Finally, whisk in the milk and pour the batter over the prunes.


Pop the dish into the oven for ten minutes before turning the temperature down to 180 degrees celsius. Bake for another half an hour or so — until such time as a knife blade comes out clean. I added ten minutes to my baking time because I used less fruit.

Enjoy warm or cold, as a dessert or as a breakfast treat. Actually, Bertinet points out that Far Breton used to be eaten for lunch by agricultural workers in France. And why not? Far Breton can be sliced like bread when it is cold… which should make it perfectly suitable for anyone… at any time of day?


General how to's & recipes, Sweets

My sister’s crunchy, chewy, seed bar recipe

Besides a variety of shells, plastic bags, friendly dogs, seagulls and teeny little fish that swished around at my feet in the gentle waves at Hout Bay beach this morning, this is what I discovered: my sister’s crunchy, chewy home-made seed bar recipe.  She presented me with a slice as soon as we met up this morning for our beach stint.  It was good!

When I asked her to tell me how to go about making it, my darling sister dispensed her recipe as follows:

Nina: I found the recipe in a Greek cookbook on a shoot the other day and it’s so easy – you just melt the sugar and…

Me: How much sugar?

Nina: Well, about 50 grams… and then you add the honey

Me: How much honey?

Nina: About 7 tablespoons

Me: Seven tablespoons?

Nina: No, 4 tablespoons.  Anyway, then you dry roast the seeds in a pan…

Me: How do you dry roast them?

Nina: Don’t you know how to dry roast seeds in a pan?

Me: But shouldn’t the nuts and seeds be done first so you can mix them into the melted sugar and honey as it melts?

Nina: Yes, of course, that’s what you’re supposed to do – first do the nuts and seeds…

I think she was rather irritated with all my detailed questions but that’s when I realized the gift that recipe writers bring to the world – that painstaking detail, set out in an orderly fashion to make it easy for any reader to follow.  Hooray, I have an important role to play on this little blue planet!




  • Dry roast your seeds in a non-stick pan on a low heat.  Don’t use butter or oil, just pop them in and warm them up slowly until they’re golden in colour.  Put them aside in a bowl
  • If you’re using nuts, dry roast them next
  • Place the sugar in a non-stick pan on a low heat and do not stir it – allow it to melt on its own
  • Then add the honey slowly while stirring very gently
  • Add the seeds to the mixture and stir
  • Pour the mixture out onto a long piece of  buttered wax paper or on a buttered marble surface
  • Lay another piece of buttered wax paper over the mixture and roll a rolling pin over it so as to flatten and even out the seed bar
  • Cut into slices while the seed mix is still warm
  • Store in an air-tight container
Cakes, General how to's & recipes

A recipe to get you through a black-banana day!

My boyfriend ran a marathon recently with his old buddy Francois, so two days before the race, I filled the fruit bowl with all the fruit that a runner could possibly wish for: bananas, bananas and bananas.

I don’t know what I was thinking but obviously no human being can eat that many bananas in just a couple of days.  I’m not sure I know how anybody can run 42 km either but that’s another matter!  What to do with what’s left of those bananas became the pertinent question.  Those left over bananas were sure bothering me.  As was the thought of those little fruit flies that threatened to appear one imminent black-banana’d day.

‘If you could choose between banana pancakes, a banana split or banana bread, what would you choose?’ I asked my boyfriend.

‘Banana bread,’ he said, ‘if there’s enough butter.’

There wasn’t enough butter so I added some olive oil to the concoction.  I should have said mixture there but then I think I’m developing a thing about over-ripe bananas, especially squashing them into a perfectly happy sweet-smelling banana-less batter! 

But now the deed is done and the timer has rung…

Here’s a simple banana bread recipe adapted from Eric Lanlard’s recipe from Home Bake (that includes 75 g walnuts in the batter mixed in at the end and 50 g banana chips to decorate the top before baking):

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C, butter a loaf tin and then gather 125 grams of butter (soft – I used 90 grams of butter and made up the difference with olive oil), 170 grams sugar, 2 eggs (at room temperature), 300 grams sifted flour (plain), 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (sifted), 150 ml milk, 5 ml vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon poppy seeds, 3 extremely ripe bananas (mashed) and a dash of cinnamon to taste.

Then whisk the butter and sugar together until they’re creamed and smooth.  Add an egg and beat, add the other egg and then beat again.  Stir in 1/3 of the flour with the bicarb, some milk and repeat until the flour and milk are well mixed in. 

Lastly, stir in the bananas, vanilla extract, poppy seeds and cinnamon.  Pour the batter into your greased tin and bake for an hour to an hour and ten minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Eat your warm banana bread as a midnight snack or toast a slice in the morning, spread it with butter and serve with sliced normal banana.

I’ll be serving mine with tea.

PS. You can see more of Eric’s wonderful recipes here.

Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal

Tinks’ eggless chocolate cake


This is one of my favourite photos of my sisters and I, taken on our old farm in Magaliesburg with our family friends, Bonny, Celeste and Vaughan.  Our fathers grew up together and our mothers were destined to become firm friends too as Yoskie and Dawn lived on the top farm, just above ours.   Dawn was a very important person in our lives: she made vetkoeks.  But that’s a story for later.

For now, I want to share a recipe that takes me right back to this photograph.  It was here, besides the old barn on the middle farm, that we would meet Chris and Tinks, both paleontologists, on the occasional weekend.  Chris had a greying beard and knew a lot about books and bees.  Tinks wore patterned shirts and an eccentric hairdo and always arrived with a very unusual tasting chocolate cake.

It’s not that I disliked Tinks’ chocolate cake.  It was more a case of it looked strange and tasted strange and felt strange.  I’d eat it slowly, wondering at its very peculiar flavour.  I often thought about it over the years but could never figure it out… until my sister recently announced that she no longer eats eggs and I had to bake her a birthday cake.

I went through my Mom’s old recipes and discovered Tinks’ chocolate cake recipe amongst them.  Wallah, no eggs!  I got straight to work, mixed up the ingredients and dipped my finger in the thick brown batter to taste.  Oh yes, that taste from all those years ago came whooshing back.  I looked through the ingredients again.  It had to be the cinnamon, mystery solved!

Or so I thought…

When it was ready, I took a teeny bite… it didn’t exactly taste of cinnamon… perhaps it was the combination of ingredients?  I found myself eating it slowly, as I did when I was a child and still found myself wondering.  My almost vegan sister (the baby in the photo above) enjoyed it and my Mom sure did too.  I’m leaving it at that… the thing I’m wondering about now is this: whatever happened to Chris and Tinks?

Here is Tinks’ recipe, re-written by my Mom with her own notes:

CHOCOLATE CAKE – QUICK – TINKS’ check below for my recipe

For the Cake

  • 6 oz (185g) plain flour (1 ½ cups) – I used self raising flour and no baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3 level tablespoons cocoa powder (heaped)
  • 1 level teaspoon bicarb of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 6 oz light soft brown sugar (12 tablespoons) – I used brown treacle sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • ¼ pt (150 ml) plus 4 tablespoons cold water (230 ml in total)

For Topping

  • 1 oz butter (30g)
  • 6 level tablespoons light soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ½ oz chopped walnuts (45g)

Tin size 9”x 11” (roasting tin)


Sieve the flour, cocoa, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and sugar into roasting tin

Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla essence and cold water

Mix all ingredients with a fork – I used an electric beater but not for long

Bake the cake on the shelf above the centre of a moderate oven, gas 4 or 350 (180 degrees) for 30 minutes or until a warm skewer inserted comes out clean

While cake is baking make topping

Beat butter until soft

Mix in sugar, milk and chopped walnuts

Immediately the cake is cooked spread the topping over the cake and put under a pre-heated grill lightly brown – NB be very careful – topping burns in seconds – don’t put too close to the grill

Leave cake to cool before cutting into 12 pieces – delicious with whipped cream

I hope to post Dawn’s vetkoek recipe soon.


Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal, Patisserie / Pastry, Photo Series

Jean’s Apple Tart Cake


3 Tablespoons butter

3 Eggs

¼ Teaspoon salt

¼ Cup milk

1 Cup flour

1 Teaspoon baking powder

1 Cup sugar

1 Tin pie apples

1 Small tin of condensed milk (can add ½ cup of milk)


Beat butter and sugar well

Add eggs and beat well

Add milk and dry ingredients alternately

Pour half of the dough into a buttered baking dish and pack the apples in layers

Pour the other half of the dough over the apple pieces

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until ready (test with skewer)

Heat the condensed milk with half a cup of milk and pour over the tart while it is hot (alternatively, use condensed milk only)


If you’d like to bake a simple cake, double the recipe and allow approximately 1 hr and 10 minutes of baking time.  Pour the condensed milk syrup over the top and then lightly whip Nestle dessert cream and pour it over the topping once it has set.

And if you’re up to it… let the kids decorate it (as Oliva did below – J is for Jean, her much-loved grandmother)

General how to's & recipes, Patisserie / Pastry

Lemon Meringue Pie (using condensed milk & a biscuit base)


Eating lemon meringue pie is an intense experience.

There’s the zing of the lemon that dangles rather dangerously on the edge of your tongue as you take your first bite. Then there’s the creamy sweet condensed milk that rushes in on the heels of the sharp sourness, which then, rather dramatically, gives way to the buttery crunch of the biscuit base (with a hint of saltiness) before your taste buds are finally allowed to settle into the softness of the soothing meringue topping.

Lemon meringue pie isn’t complete without a cup of tea…

Or a tea party (thank~you Anairam and also for your blog post on my lemon meringue pie !) …

Here is a somewhat classic South African recipe using one packet of biscuits and one tin of condensed milk. It’s easy to bake and my favourite part is creating different meringue shapes (otherwise simply spoon it on loosely to form a ‘puffy-cloud’ topping).

PRE HEAT OVEN to 180 degrees celsius


GREASE a tart tin with butter

CRUSH 1 packet Tennis biscuits (or other coconut, syrup and butter biscuits) into fine pieces (my Mom used to put the packet inside a dish cloth and then bang the contents with a rolling pin)

MELT 125 grams butter

COMBINE biscuits and butter and PRESS into the pie dish (allow it to set in the fridge)


MIX 385 g/ 1 tin of Nestle condensed milk with 3 egg yolks and 125 ml of lemon juice (put the egg whites aside for the meringue topping)


WHISK 3 to 4 egg whites until stiff and then gradually add 125 ml castor sugar and 15 ml cornflour (to stabilise the meringue). Whisk until the peaks are stiff and the egg whites are shiny

PIPE (or spoon on) the meringue onto the filling


Bake at 180 degrees for ten – 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned

Allow to cool before serving (eat the same day or the following day)

Variations – place 1/2 can of pie apples or 3 sliced bananas on the biscuit base before pouring in the filling. Alternatively, mix the pulp of 3 fresh granadilla into the condensed milk filling. For an extra zing, add the rind of one lemon to the condensed milk filling.

Desserts, General how to's & recipes, Journal

The smoke break is over cough*cough… (and how to make Khir)

With Jacques, my writing buddy... having a picnic en route to le void...
I admit it was a rather long ‘smoke break’ but it was a good one.  One of the highlights being that  I managed to write my first ‘novel’.  By ‘novel’, I am referring to the fact that I got 50 000 words down on paper in a month for the NaNoMo challenge.  Novel, in this case, does not mean that anybody is ever going to read it!
Vipassana meditation Retreat, Worcester, Cape Town

The writing got me into a frame of mind where I felt ready to experience the silent ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat that my friend Dylan recommended.  It was an incredible experience but since this is a patisserie blog, I won’t say too much here except that one of my biggest fears about the retreat was that I was surely going to suffer…

I wasn’t concerned about what it would be like for a hyperactive person to sit in one place for several hours a day or worse still, to meditate cross-legged for a full one hour without moving.  Nor was I thinking about waking up at 4 am or what I would find as I exited the outer world to dive into the workings of my own mind and body.  Nope, I was worrying about the food.  I was anxious that I would suffer from a rumbling, grumbling, hungry tummy, based on the fact that only two meals were to be served every day:  6.30am breakfast and 11am lunch and that we were not permitted to take our own snacks with us.

The path to the dining hall at the Worcester retreat, Cape Town

I am pleased to report that the food turned out to be delicious vegetarian and was served in generous quantities.  I only felt hungry once (maybe we really don’t need to eat as much or as often as we think).   And I was delighted on the final day: we were served a cardamom scented creamy dessert for breakfast.  Bliss!

The dessert was symbolic of the story our teacher, Goenka had narrated the day before about a boy who threw away the bowl of khir his mother had made because he was convinced that there were black stones in it.  He was wrong, the black stones were cardamom seeds. He never got to taste the sweet dish.  The moral of the story: take out what you don’t like rather than throw everything away. See the recipe for Khir below.

Back on the road to nowhere…

This recipe for Khir (also known as Kheer) requires a lot of time.  It will  serve 4- 5 people:

250 g cooked basmati rice (or 100 g cooked in 400 ml water)

½ teaspoon salt

2.5 litres milk

150 g sugar

1 ½ teaspoons of cardamom (shelled)

¼ cup of raisins

25 g chopped cashew nuts

35 – 40 ml oil or ghee

For the rice pudding:

Slowly boil the rice with the salt until it has cooked or place your cooked rice in a pot.  Add the milk and bring to the boil using low heat.  Simmer and stir for approximately four hours or until the rice loses its shape or the milk has reduced to half its original volume.  Stir in the sugar and cardamom seeds (I would add the cardamom seeds earlier).  You could cook the pudding for a few hours the night before and finish your cooking in the morning if you want to have it for breakfast, as we did.

For the garnish:

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the raisins and cashew nuts and fry until the nuts are reddish in colour and the raisins have swollen.

Serve warm.

Lots else happened during the metaphorical smoke break which I’ll share over the next few posts eg. how to make your own recipe book.

Adios x

PS. Visit for a different khir recipe using condensed milk, cardamom powder, almonds and saffron.  It is served cold and decorated with rose petals.

Desserts, General how to's & recipes

Condensed milk ice-cream (you might as well double the recipe!)

Scraping the leftover condensed milk from my mother’s tins over the years as a child, I grew to love the sweet, magical stuff.  One day I wondered what it would be like to have one’s Very Own Tin of Condensed Milk?

There was no denying that it would be a very fine thing indeed and since it was Christmas time, I bought six tins, designed my own labels and carefully glued them onto the pots of milky gold.

My sisters freaked at Christmas that year.  It was a major thing, let me tell you, to have your Very Own Anything with four girls around.  (Yes, condensed milk was always on the menu but shared: eg. my dad would punch holes into a tin which we’d pass around or make caramel which we’d all spoon out of the tin in one sitting).

My dad was fed sweet condensed milk as a baby.  My Mom baked with it.  It’s become a family tradition.  Needless to say, I can’t resist the stuff.  Take making condensed milk ice-cream for example:  it never quite gets to the ‘ice’ stage…


Ingredients: One tin of Nestle condensed milk, one tin of Nestle Ideal Milk, 250 ml of cream and 5 ml of vanilla extract

Method: Mix the condensed milk, Ideal milk (evaporated milk) and vanilla extract. Whip the cream well and then fold it into the condensed milk mix. Place in the freezer until there is crystal formation.  Beat the mix again and freeze.